Polar Record

Research Article

The Norse in Greenland and late Holocene sea-level change

Naja Mikkelsena1, Antoon Kuijpersa1 and Jette Arneborga2

a1 Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Øster Voldgade 10, 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark

a2 Greenland Research Centre at the National Museum of Denmark, Fredriksholms Kanal 12, 1220 Copenhagen, Denmark

ABSTRACT

Norse immigrants from Europe settled in southern Greenland in around AD 985 and managed to create a farming community during the Medieval Warm Period. The Norse vanished after approximately 500 years of existence in Greenland leaving no documentary evidence concerning why their culture foundered. The flooding of fertile grassland caused by late Holocene sea-level changes may be one of the factors that affected the Norse community. Holocene sea-level changes in Greenland are closely connected with the isostatic response of the Earth's crust to the behaviour of the Greenlandic ice sheet. An early Holocene regressive phase in south and west Greenland was reversed during the middle Holocene, and evidence is found for transgression and drowning of early-middle Holocene coast lines. This drowning started between 8 and 7ka BP in southern Greenland and continued during the Norse era to the present. An average late Holocene sea level rise in the order of 2–3 m/1000 years may be one of the factors that negatively affected the life of the Norse Greenlanders, and combined with other both socio-economic and environmental problems, such as increasing wind and sea ice expansion at the transition to the Little Ice Age, may eventually have led to the end of the Norse culture in Greenland.

(Received February 2007)